A meritocracy is a political, economic, or social system that rewards individuals because of talent and personal ability as opposed to factors such as class, nepotism, or race or ethnicity. Meritocracies typically require entrance exams or other measures to ensure that individuals meet minimum qualifications before they are appointed to public positions or the civil service. Promotion is subsequently based on merit.
The term was coined by Michael Young in his 1958 critical work The Rise of Meritocracy, but the principles of meritocracy have their roots in antiquity. Proponents of meritocracies include Plato and Confucius, who advocated ideal societies where wealth and status were tied to ability. Merit-based civil service systems were introduced in a number of countries in the 1800s as a reform effort intended to end cronyism and political patronage. For instance, in the United States, the 1883
Pendleton Civil Service Act created the modern U.S. civil service, based on meritocracy. Critics of meritocracy argue that structural advantages, including access to education, disproportionately favor wealthier classes. Opponents also assert that meritocracies reward groupthink and conformity rather than encouraging innovation. Consequently, they contend meritocracies tend to reinforce the status quo in societies.